“I’m Your Woman” should first be praised for the impressive amount of mileage it gets out of its strengths. Director Julia Hart’s meticulous eye, Rachel Brosnahan’s sharp brilliance and a long overdue ‘70s crime-thriller genre subversion all draw audience attention well into the second act. Unfortunately, the film loses that excitement and overindulges in a plain narrative, but it still deserves a watch.
The first sign of danger could have been the opening narration, which Brosnahan’s Jean reads, inexplicably in the third person, with a foreboding dispassion. It’s simple to a fault, read over a black screen — declaring with sleek style that the following events will be interesting.
But then, Jean appears, coldly dragging her cigarette, with her mysterious eyes concealed under fabulous octagonal shades, her magenta outfit and marvelously yellow lawn chair crisp against the muted brown-green of an autumn garden. Bobbie Gentry’s “I Wouldn’t Be Surprised” starts playing as the shot widens, further building the atmosphere. And it is interesting. More than that — it’s brilliant.
Jean’s husband, Eddie (Bill Heck), is a nondescript criminal. Sadly, Jean can’t have children, but Eddie surprises her with a baby who keeps her company when Eddie spends irregular hours “working,” to which Jean turns a blind eye. One night, Eddie leaves for a business trip he doesn’t return from, and later, one of Eddie’s men comes pounding at the door, telling Jean she has to leave with Cal (Arinze Kene), no questions answered.
Baby in tow, Jean goes on the run. Whatever Eddie did, everyone is looking for him and Jean. Long drives, rest stop restaurants, safe houses and boogeymen ensue.
Sparsely written, “I’m Your Woman” attempts to apply the same purposeful precision to its dialogue as it does to its composition, with mixed results. There’s a fine line between hamminess and subtlety, and this film often finds its characters dealing in the former. When each word feels so agonized over, it makes the revelations of the dialogue feel self-important — even when Jean’s character development says it isn’t.
The slow drip of information Jean discovers about Eddie and Cal and his family grows more grating with each “aha” moment that is delivered in one-line declarations to be confirmed or ignored by whoever is opposite her. If Jean learns to act and survive not by making sense of the situation, but by trusting her instincts, why spend so much time on bland revelations?
Visually, the film shows these facts dexterously. There’s a moving poetry in revealing details such as the presence of love in Cal’s life through something as simple as his habit of smoking unlit cigarettes to preserve his health for his wife’s sake.
These restrained visual stories are swiftly undercut by dialogue that uses its few words poorly, telling what was just shown in a way that oozes confidence in its concise writing while lacking it in the masterful visuals. Combined, it reads as talking down to the audience — who’ve long since lost interest in whichever detail the film is obsessing over.
Still, Jean and Teri (Marsha Stephanie Blake), Cal’s wife, are well played. Brosnahan delivers Jean’s tired subjugation-turned-decisive-autonomy with such commitment that “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” she’s known for becomes a stranger. Blake nails the calm resolve of Teri’s “been there, done that” attitude. Together, they somewhat redeem the dissatisfying third act.
It’s unfortunate that Jean’s compelling character arc, aided by Teri’s experience, shines so brightly on eyes bored shut. The audience is no longer appreciating the good old-fashioned car chase they’re being treated to, the film’s use of symmetry or that this film exists at all.
“I’m Your Woman” gets quite wrong the things it gets wrong and absolutely nails the things it gets right. Since negatives tend to outweigh equivalent positives when evaluating a whole, it’s a shame that Hart let that happen here. It’s astounding how just OK this film is.
“I’m Your Woman” is streaming now on Amazon Prime Video.